Zidane oversees his first game back as Real Madrid entertain Celta while Barça travel to Betis and Atlético are guests of Athletic Club in Bilbao.
Real Sociedad – Levante (Friday 21:00) Prediction: home win
Levante have shipped 48 goals this season, the joint-worst defensive record in the division along with Rayo. Away from home only Celta, Huesca, and slightly bizarrely Real Madrid, have conceded more. The Frogs are so jumpy at the back that they have allowed almost 100 more shots than the next side on that list, Villarreal. Paco López’s side have lost five of their last six away and although La Real have lost their last two, they should have enough to get back on track for Europe against a side looking nervously down rather than up.
Huesca – Alavés (Saturday 13:00) Prediction: home win
We would love to know what the odds were on Los Oscenses staying up a few weeks ago. We would also not have minded whacking a tenner on that outcome. After winning just one game before 2019 Francisco’s side have picked up 14 points since the turn of the year to bring them within four points of Villarreal in 17th. It would be a manager of the season contender if the man brought in in mid-October to keep the side up actually manages it. Alavés are punching well above their weight as well but have lost to the likes of Levante, Eibar and Leganés away this season and got thumped at both Getafe and Real Madrid (Santiago Solari’s Real Madrid, just to be clear) last month.
Real Madrid – Celta (Saturday 16:15) Prediction: home win
There’s no new manager bounce quite like Zinedine Zidane strolling back through the Bernabéu revolving door. The architect of three Champions League victories, the Frenchman’s stock has never been higher after the abject failure of his two replacements and the fans will be bouncing on Saturday. Fran Escribà took over at Celta a couple of weeks ago but lost his first match in charge, leaving the Galicians in the relegation zone. Only Huesca have shipped more on the road than Celta (and eight of those were in 90 Camp Nou minutes): the visitors are in for a good old-fashioned tonking.
Athletic – Atlético (Saturday 18:30) Prediction: home win (x)
Something is rotten in the state of Simeone: not one shot on target as the Rojiblancos had a triple dose of Cristiano Ronaldo shoved down their throats in Turin, squad rebellion against the robust methods of El Profe Ortega, injuries to key defenders and the requirement to not drop a single point between now and May to have a chance of catching Barcelona. It’s not a great panorama. What Atlético lacked against Juventus was someone to bully the opposition defence. It’s all well and good when Antoine Griezmann is getting the ball with his face to goal but neither he nor Álvaro Morata are particularly imposing forwards. Athletic will have watched the video. And Gaizka Garitano, who remains unbeaten at home, will lay out exactly the same blueprint as Max Allegri did.
Leganés – Girona (Saturday 20:45) Prediction: draw
The Cucumber Growers still possess a quite remarkable home record this season: only Villarreal have won in Butarque and Barcelona were sent packing on the back of a 2-1 defeat. That was one of only four times Lega have scored more than once at home though and they do rather enjoy a draw in the ‘burbs. Against a Girona side who have won their last two away from home after switching to four at the back, including beating Real Madrid (Santiago Solari’s Real Madrid, just to be clear), that would be a decent result for Lega on Saturday evening.
Eibar – Valladolid (Sunday 12:00) Prediction: home win
Valladolid are in some serious schtuck after such a promising start to the season, winning just two games since October and losing their last four on the bounce. Owner Ronaldo said at one stage that he might strap his boots on and help out on the training pitch: he might as well get out on the pitch now as is side have managed just two goals in their last six fixtures. And they conceded seven in reply in those two games. Eibar haven’t been beaten at Ipurua since September and have won three of their last four at home, scoring nine times during that run.
Espanyol – Sevilla (Sunday 16:15) Prediction: home win
Zidane won't be the only LaLiga coach making his return this weekend. Sevilla handed Pablo Machín his notice on Friday and Joaquín Caparrós is back for his third stint at the Sánchez Pizjuán. The Andalucians have dropped off horribly in recent weeks, slumping out of the top four, losing a mad game against Slavia Prague on Thursday to end their European hopes and winning just one in six in LaLiga to allow Valencia and Betis to move to within a point of their precarious sixth place. There’s a bit of a feelgood factor around the RCDE at the moment with Rubi’s side unbeaten in six and steadily climbing the table. The visitors’ morale may or may not exactly be on the same level but the new coach factor could have a positive influence for Caparrós' charges - who knows?
Valencia – Getafe (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: home win (x)
Valencia have been flying of late going nine Liga games without defeat and crucially, winning games from positions where they would have let their heads drop earlier in the season. The Europe League victory over Krasnodar was the perfect example of where Los Che are now. Marcelino bouncing off the touchline to hug his players after Gonçalo Guedes’ late, late winner was the stuff Mestalla loves to see. Getafe have lost just twice in their last 10 but have often failed to turn draws into wins on the road. For the first time this season, we’re confident Valencia will avoid yet another one at home.
Villarreal – Rayo (Sunday 18:30) Prediction: home win
It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t have a soft spot for Rayo, a genuine community spirited club with some admirable politics and a good-natured support. Unfortunately for the Madrid-based minnows, their back five is currently the consistency of custard. Míchel’s men have lost their last six on the trot and are a single point off the foot of the table. Villarreal, meanwhile, are in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and have dragged themselves out of the relegation mire on the back of victories over Sevilla and Levante in recent weeks. The Submarine are far from back to their best, but they have a bit of momentum at least; Rayo are sinking fast.
Betis – Barcelona (Sunday 20:45) Prediction: away win
Betis beat Barcelona in Camp Nou earlier in the season but the Verdiblancos’ season has unravelled a little since then. Quique Setién’s side are still in the hunt for a European place but have been knocked out of all cup competitions recently and were beaten by Getafe in their last game at a mutinous Villamarín. If the hosts go behind it’s very difficult to see them pulling off a repeat of that remarkable 4-3 triumph back in November and with Leo Messi is his current form it’s safe to assume they will.